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Earth Day at 44…. still crying?

22 Apr 2014

Earth Day brings me right back here

Earth Day brings me right back here

Happy Earth Day 44.  We have come a long way from the challenges and problems that led to the first Earth Day –  a 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California; the dead zone in Lake Eriesmog in Los Angeles and burning rivers in the Midwest.

The first Earth Day led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of environmental laws like the Clean AirClean Water, and Endangered Species Acts.  As the EPA and its state counterparts have continued to regulate, there has been a backlash of business and media outcry which certainly impacts the public’s views.

The challenges we face today are more complex and likely more daunting than those of 44 years ago.  We still have oil spills, but they are from rail cars, pipelines, larger ships and deeper wells.  Lake Erie and many other bodies of water are still challenged by more diffuse and “below the radar” sources of contamination.  While reducing the impacts of asbestos, lead and NOx from our daily lives, and healing the ozone hole, we now face questions regarding greenhouse gasses, smog impacts from and in China unlike anything LA ever faced, and the challenges and benefits posed by fracking.

Once the “low hanging fruit” of easy cleanups were “picked,” what we were left with was less shocking or engaging than dead fish and burning rivers.  Consequently, there’s much more debate about the best way to address them or whether they need to be addressed at all.  The issues are just as important – maybe more so, but it’s unlikely that our polarized nation would agree on what changes would be best, if any.

“Free” Energy Efficiency Funds Available to Michigan Small Businesses

17 Apr 2014

 The Michigan Energy Office recently announced a grant program where they will match building owner (private and non-profit) funds of between $5,000 and $20,000 for energy efficiency projects.  Any small business or private nonprofit organization with fewer than 100 employees statewide that owns a commercial building in Michigan is eligible to apply.

 There is a process with written and oral presentations and the goals are to improve energy efficiency by 20% or more through each funded project and to cause funds to be reinvested based on savings.  This may make some smaller private projects that have been sitting on the shelf awaiting funding viable.

You will need an itemized budget and budget narrative and be able to justify the expense and the savings you expect as well as jump through a number of other “hoops.”  Please let me know if you’d like more information about the program.

Electricity “shaming” comes to Detroit?

21 Oct 2013

My first energy “report card”

About 20 months ago, I blogged about a friend in Palo Alto who had received a summary comparing her electric use to her neighbors and last summer my house got a smart meter with the promise that, at some point, we were going to get access to our energy usage information via the Internet “to better manage my energy costs.”

Well, that day has arrived (sort of) and, frankly, I don’t have the tools to manage my costs but now I feel like an underachiever.

Our “energy report card” came in the mail and you can see, my family is somewhere in the middle when compared to my more efficient and less efficient neighbors.  Apparently, if we only could have matched the efficient neighbors, we’d have saved over $400 last year.  That sounds nice, but other than giving me three canned suggestions (or did they know we have an old basement fridge?), I’m not sure knowing how my usage compares really does for me.

Despite all the LED bulbs I’ve replaced (and I still have plenty of incandescents I’m waiting on to burn out), insulation, a new fridge and microwave and dishwasher, and timers, I  still need to invest more time and money in energy efficient appliances and use them more intelligently – no meter is going to remind my family to turn off the lights when we leave a room or not stand with the fridge open. It is the human element that needs to get smarter.

Thus far, I just feel like my neighbors are looking at me and saying, “he’s the one who leaves his porch lights on all night – D+!”  What about you? Did you get one of these? what are you doing with the information?

LIFX smart bulbs now available

14 Oct 2013


Image: LIFX.Kickstarter

Just over a year ago, I blogged about the LIFX smart bulb, a Kickstarter funded project.  At that time, the project had just been fully funded (in record time) and production on the first batch of bulbs was about to begin.

As you may remember, LIFX is an energy efficient, multi-color LED bulb that can be controlled by a smartphone.   LIFX can also be turned on and off from an existing light switch – just like a regular light bulb – so you won’t be left in the dark (or light) if you lose your smartphone. 

The first batch of bulbs produced went to those who funded the Kickstarter project and the second batch already sold out.  No need to worry, however, as you can pre-order bulbs from the third batch which is expected to ship (and have limited retail availability) in the first quarter of 2014.  The ultimate price?  $89 plus shipping for an individual bulb ($85 each if you purchase 4 or more). 

It is unfortunate that the third batch won’t be ready in time for the holiday season as LIFX would certainly make for an interesting gift.

Is this still going on?

26 Aug 2013

Almost two years after Kevin wrote this – is this still going on?  Aren’t we past the light bulb wars?  Doesn’t Congress have anything more important to do?

Payback is a b*tch

12 Jun 2013

As regular MichiganGreenLaw readers know, about 18 months ago, we added insulation to our home.  While three years of data (one before, one of and one after) is not a big enough database, I spent time evaluating at the last three years of our DTE and Consumers Power invoices.  What I learned is that our sense that our house was warmer in the winter and stayed cooler in the summer appears to be accurate.  We saw a reduction in our usage and, while rates vary over time, it does appear that we are saving money.  Now we find ourselves asking how long before this improvement pays for itself in savings?

This is the question that many businesses ask before making alternative energy investments – “How long before I recoup my investment?”  Often, in the post-2007 era, businesses will insist on less  than three years.  Savvy investors know that there are many different methods used to analyze capital projects including net present value (NPV), internal rate of return (IRR), cash flow, profitability index (PI), and payback period.

The payback period method does not take into account the time value of money, the likely increase in costs of energy ($4.30 a gallon of gas, anyone?) and this method doesn’t consider cash inflows after the initial investment is recovered (except the recognition that it’s “all gravy” conclusion).  The payback method’s biggest advantage is it is easy to apply and understand.  However, as more and more authors are writing, this method is misleading and often unfair – as this author notes, no one asks for the payback on home amenities. In short, when making these investments, one must treat them as investments and, taking into account incentives, cash flow, cost of money, projected increases in the cost of energy, (not to mention the ability to market the greener approach or the societal value of a smaller carbon footprint)  consider whether investing in greener equipment or processes is the best use for the company’s funds when compared to other investment opportunities. In many cases it may be the best investment, despite a longer than desired payback period.

The smartest light bulb ever?

28 Sep 2012


LIFX, a Kickstarter-funded smartbulb, is a WiFi enabled, multicolor, energy efficient LED light bulb that you can control with your iPhone or Android.  According to its inventors, the LIFX reduces energy costs, can last up to 25 years, and set-up is as easy as replacing your existing bulbs with LIFX smartbulbs and downloading a free app.  

The Kickstarter project, which launched September 15th and is already fully funded, has 8,843 backers with a total of $1,312,576 raised (well above its original goal).  While the pledges are sold out, you can still back the project here and register here to receive a notification when the LIFX is available for purchase. 

While its efficiency is a definite advantage, and the ability to change the color of the bulb to match your mood is cool, its ability to slowly turn on (think natural alarm clock) or dim (think night-light for kids) interest me most.  Ultimately, however, I am eager to see exactly how much one of these smartbulbs will set me back.

For all the details, a list of its features and a video demonstration visit the LIFX Kickstarter page here.